Addressing Allergies in the Workplace
March 30, 2022
In many cases, people are under the assumption allergies and intolerances are new-age illnesses, which only came into existence a couple of years ago. However, it is more likely down to the fact people are becoming more socially aware of their health and have access to a wealth of medical diagnoses online.
Some startling facts about allergies include:
- 44% of British adults now suffer from one allergy and the number is on the rise.
- In the 20 years prior to 2012 there was a 615% increase in the rate of hospital admissions for anaphylaxis in the UK.
- In the UK, allergic diseases across all ages cost the NHS an estimated £900 million a year, mostly through prescribed treatments in primary care, representing 10% of the GP prescribing budget.
In the workplace, sharing fridges, workspaces, stationary, pens and pencils could cause employees to have allergic reactions.
So, what does this mean for employees at work? And what are the steps employers should take to keep staff safe?
In this blog, we want to highlight why employers should care and what steps you should be taking to assist employees with allergies.
Why should employers care?
It is incredibly important to assess the severity of the allergy.
For example, if an allergy has the validity to fall under the Equality Act 2010 or amounts to a disability, the employer has a duty of care to make reasonable adjustments to their workplace and the employee will be protected against unfair treatment.
Employers have legal obligations to carry out health and safety legislation to protect their employees (and also themselves) by removing or reducing workplace risks. For example, if an employee has a nut allergy, the first possible step an employer should take is to remove all nuts from the office and inform their team not to bring any nuts in going forward, as this could be dangerous for the employee who has the nut allergy.
Employees can have allergies to different allergens which vary from person to person. In one instance, you may have multiple people who have nut allergies. One individual may be able to smell, touch or perhaps ingest a small number of nuts without having a fatal reaction. Another may be exposed to the smallest trace but with fatal results.
The important thing to take away is to remove the allergen completely from your office.
What can employers do?
It’s important that you make the employee with the allergy as comfortable as possible. It may seem pretty obvious but the person who knows them better than anyone else is themselves! Be the employer who makes them feel more supported by asking them what specific adjustments can make them feel more at ease.
When an allergen is so severe, they may already have an action plan in place designed to facilitate first aid treatment of anaphylaxis, which can be delivered by people who do not have any special medical training nor equipment apart from access to an adrenaline autoinjector.
Those plans should be circulated to the employer’s first aiders.
Make others aware
It’s common practice to ensure other employees are aware of allergies so they can ensure they avoid bringing the allergen into work. However, you must approach this subject with care. It could be down to the individual’s discretion that employees are made aware, but not that it is them who has the allergy in case they are singled out or harassed.
The introduction of an allergy policy into your workplace may be the most appropriate path to take. An example of this is banning all nut consumption in the office or storing all fish in the office fridge. It can also incorporate that you ensure your business is clean, especially where there are shared kitchen resources. Keeping on top of and ensuring these policies stick shows that you care about the health and wellbeing of employees with allergies, and it is a great addition to your work handbook.
Why not take it one step further and incorporate an allergy contract?
Make it abundantly clear to the employee what you are doing as an employer to assist them with their allergy. However, this contract works both ways as the employee will still have a level of responsibility to make sure they have their own precautions such as always carrying an EpiPen at work.
Give them space
In some cases where the allergy is so severe, it would be wise to give the employee their own personal space. This can include their own fridge, storage for their utensils during lunch and breaks and giving them their own designated desk.
One final note
So, there you have it.
It’s incredibly important that employees with allergies are seen and heard. If you need help implementing your own allergy policy in your workplace or have any burning questions about anything in this blog, please get in contact at firstname.lastname@example.org.